Mayor Grenier made a point last night I thought was intriguing. He went to the SEC hearing about the CPD plan, and he said he wouldn’t want to be a developer going in front of that process. He’s right about that.
I went down to cover the hearing, and the story will appear in this week’s Reporter. I used 1,000 words to describe the hearing, but it went on for more than six hours so I easily could have written more. The petitioners made a poor case about the deficiencies in the CPD plan, at least from the point of view of residents. They were harping on the road and the traffic, which were dealt with by the planning board, while they ignored financial questions about the project.
The SEC dove in anyway, though. They looked beyond the questions of petitioners, delving into issues of transmission, financials and more. CPD had answers, with documentation and diagrams, but the questions certainly weren’t softballs.
The SEC has jurisdiction beyond the controls of the planning and zoning board. The major issue such boards don’t address is financing. The legislature put the cut off for review at 30 megawatts, and they didn’t set up any alternative method for communities to verify finances of projects less than 30 megawatts, other than petitioning the SEC to review it. That makes it seem the legislature didn’t put a high value on ensuring smaller projects are financially viable. CPD’s attorney made that point several times. What the difference is between 25 and 35 megawatts I don’t know, but it is apparently big enough for the legislature to exempt some from financial review and not others.
But watching the SEC in action was impressive, and I have to agree with Mr. Grenier that it was tough. If Laidlaw’s experience is anything like CPD’s, the project will undergo considerable scrutiny as it moves through review. The members on the committee didn’t seem to pull their punches, and sitting in the hot seat at times looked uncomfortable.
Councilor Cayer said at last night’s meeting that the state often misses when it comes to living up to its responsibilities concerning municipalities. Just a few minutes earlier the council was discussing some upcoming legislation that proved his point—the state was offering a tax break that would come out of the municipalities revenues. But unless the SEC has a reason to treat Laidlaw differently than CPD they will get a lot of scrutiny—instead of one day they get 240.
I intend to be in Concord for those hearings as well, and I will see first hand whether they act softer. If they do it will indeed indicate a bias within the committee, but I don’t expect such things. It will be easy to tell: if the committee is asking questions I wouldn’t want to have to answer you will know they are still doing their job.
The committee has greater authority than the local boards, and therefore is the right place for a controversial 70 megawatt project. Any question about the project will have to be answered, and its viability will certainly be determined. The SEC is a far better entity that the planning and zoning to address concerns about Laidlaw, its investors and its plans, and there is no mechanism for the city to look into its finances. If the idea of a plant in the center of the city is your problem, SEC review provides no solution, but if it’s in Laidlaw the company that your concerns lie, they won’t move an inch if they can’t prove they are legitimate.
I admit, I came into this halfway, and I don’t live in Berlin, but it seems to me if you were looking for a hard look at Laidlaw from an unbiased source the SEC is the place. It should allay some fears that the company will stomp on Berlin, or that local politicians are going to shoe them in the door. This process, if its like what I saw last Friday, is going to hurt, particularly if they aren’t for real. Honestly, it looks like it will hurt no matter what—nobody wants to be under the magnifying glass that long. But the state seems to have done a good job setting up a knowledgeable committee to ensure the project is good for the community.
The caveat being that if your big issue with the project is its location such a reassuring process doesn’t help. The process will, however, address concerns about Laidlaw. Residents will likely raise the issues that are often brought up LPJ before the SEC, which will undoubtedly conduct a thorough review. Skeptics should go watch—if they grill Laidlaw the way they grilled CPD all the answers will come out.
And if they don’t I’ll be sure to tell you; I’ll be sitting in the front row.